The last few pounds are always the toughest. For me, it’s always been the stubborn belly fat that that I can’t seem to shed. No matter how much I workout, my body seems to fight me the entire way. It kind of reminds me of when I walk my dog and she doesn’t want to move because she’s picked up on some interesting scent. I tug on the leash and she digs her heals in and the only way to get her to move is to give a stern yank on her chain.
Your body resists your weight loss effort in much the same way. I won’t go into the biochemistry of it all, and quite frankly, I don’t know that I really know it all anyway. However, the fact is your body fights your efforts at trying to reach low levels of body fat, because it’s trying to protect you from starvation. It’s a built in mechanism that we humans have, which have historically been used to keep us alive during times of famine and starvation.
Your body has no idea about your quest to look like Mark Wahlberg when he filmed The Fighter, or that you secretly want to be King Leonidas from the movie 300. It just thinks your starving and might die, so it throws up defense mechanisms that will actually inhibit the fat loss process.
So, while you want to lose weight, your body is fighting you the whole way, trying to retain that weight. In order to beat this problem, you’ll need to work outsmart your body’s defense mechanisms. If you follow the right approach, you can do this. And, you can do it faster and easier than you might have thought possible.
Here’s some tips that will help you get started losing that stubborn fat:
Do I need to do cardio to lose fat?
In many fitness circles, its thought that adding cardio to your workout routine will help you get rid of excess body fat. The idea is that you can burn more calories simply by doing cardio, in addition to all the other things that you currently do fitness-wise. In my experience, this approach can work very well, but it can also backfire on you to.
Here’s where it can be a problem…Many of us are pretty hard driving when it comes to our workouts. So, when we think something is good and we get some initial success doing it, we naturally seek to do more of it. However, more is not always a good answer, because there is a point of diminishing returns, we can also over train. An over trained body on a low calorie diet will actually attempt to retain fat, making our job even harder. Again this is just our body trying to protect us from starvation and death.
So, approach cardio with moderation. Start with 20 minute sessions and monitor your results. If it is working, add some more tim on the treadmill, but listen to your body and be sure not to over train.
Which, brings me to another point on intensity:
Should I focus my efforts on high intensity exercise, like HIIT?
I know HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is all the rage these days,and many people claim that HIIT will solve every problem from athletic conditioning to fat loss. I think a more balanced view of HIIT is really in order. HIIT can be a very useful tool for fat loss, but it can also be overused and counterproductive.
This goes back to my previous point about over training, which is even more problematic if you are on a low calorie diet. HIIT is very intense and physically demanding. All out sprints can put a strain on the body, that without the proper recovery can stress the CNS and put you past the point of over training.
That’s why when I hear people advise others who are hitting a weight loss plateau to “just do more HIIT”, “increase the intensity”, “add more HIIT workouts to your week”, I just cringe. It’s quite likely that this advise is adding to the problem and not fixing it.
HIIT must be used in moderation, if it is going to be used for fat loss. Piling on high intensity work will just lead to problems.
My feeling is that most people can get real results from 2-3 HIIT sessions a week. To boost the effect of this training, they can add additional low intensity, longer duration cardio training sessions throughout the week, which will burn up more calories and aid in recovery.
How many days a week should I workout to maximize fat loss?
This is good question and the answer is that you should do as many sessions in the week as you can reasonably handle without over training. When planning your weekly workout schedule, balance your training so that you have both high intensity and low intensity/recovery days baked into your schedule.
A simple approach to this, and one that will maximizing your fat loss, is to follow a high intensity day by a low intensity day. For example, you might do a hard weight workout one day, and the next day simply spend an hour walking at a fairly brisk day or a light jog. This will allow you to burn a lot of calories throughout the week, while still getting the metabolic benefit from your high intensity training.
How can I preserve muscle mass and still lose weight?
Losing muscle mass during the dieting process is something that a lot of bodybuilders lose sleep over. After all, they need to look BIG and RIPPED for their contests, not just ripped.
However, for us non-bodybuilders, it is still a good idea to maintain our muscle mass for a few reasons. One, it keeps us strong and it makes us look hot! Two, because the more muscle we have the more calories we burn. In short, muscle mass keeps our metabolism high and makes the weight loss process easier.
So,in order to minimize muscle loss, we should take our clues from the experts, bodybuilders. Here’s a few things they recommend. First, keep protein high. Try to get at least 1 gram of protein per pound. So, a 150 person, should eat 150 grams of protein per day.
Also, don’t over-cardio. Many bodybuilders keep cardio to a minimum and often prefer long walks over a more intense running program. In other words, they let their diet do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to shedding weight and getting six pack abs.
What foods should I avoid?
I’d love to tell you that you can get ripped eating pizza and drinking beer, but if you I could make that happen I’d be getting rich selling my secret on late night TV. The fact is that in order to get really lean, you will have to have some discipline in your diet.
Here is a short list of things you want to avoid:
– Starchy foods
– Foods with sugar
– Foods with corn syrup
– Alcohols (yes, this includes beer)
– Foods with white flour (breads, crackers, etc.)
The reason these foods we eliminate these foods from our diet is that our body processes them in such a way that they promote the retention of fat. A better alternative to these kinds of foods are low-glycemic index carbs. Or, if you don’t want to think very hard when preparing a meal, use this simple rule of thumb. Eat more vegetables and less of every other kind of carb and use a limited amount of whole grains.
One thing you have to be careful with is over-dieting. Yes, too much of a good thing can be a problem. Excessive calorie restriction over time will cause your basal metabolic rate to lower. Simply put, you will start to burn burning less calories each day, and the diet that you used to lose weight on may cause weight gain.
This is another one of those tricks that our body plays on us. Because its become accustomed to surviving on lower calories, it just assumes that that is the new normal. So, your body resets your metabolism and slows it down and your diet stops working. Your body is trying to protect you, but it has no idea that it’s really messing with your head. It doesn’t know the stress that you are under, trying to get ready to wear your bikini on the beaches of Negril in just three weeks.
However, you can overcome this little problem by periodically breaking your diet. This gives your body the confidence that it’s not going to starve. This of course, will prevent it from slowing your metabolic rate and making the difficult process of losing weight even more difficult.
A couple of cool ideas that can help you get the edge
I have tried both of these approaches and they both work well:
– Carb/calorie cycling
– Intermittent fasting